Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A New Better Normal

Whenever I hear someone talk about the "new normal," I find myself listening with a sense of foreboding, as if it's a phrase from Orwell's Newspeak lexicon. It's as if people are trying to put a positive spin on a world without live theater or lively bars; where human contact is largely limited to waves and winks; where everyone is working from basement offices with screens as their primary window on the world.

I instinctively push back. I don't want a new normal. People speak hopefully about human resilience, about how love and art and humanity will "find a way," but there is no guarantee that the new way will be an improvement, or even an adequate replacement, for the old. In fact, looking back on many of the new normals that have emerged in my lifetime, I have legitimate reason to worry. The fact that today's children have far less freedom than I did as a child is an appalling new normal, one woven from a "crisis" invented by the irrational fears of minds no less fevered than those of today. The new normal of high stakes standardized testing and curricular standardization and trying to force three-year-olds to read that emerged from the manufactured crisis of "falling behind" has lead to a new normal in which our youngest citizens are suffering from mental illnesses at rates unheard of in the older normal. And I'm far from convinced that our new normal of anonymous suburbs and cities is an improvement on the old normal of towns and villages where neighbors knew one another.

I understand the instinct to think positive, to anticipate rather than fret. I get it from a psychological perspective as well as a pragmatic one. After all, sometimes in the grand scheme of things a new normal is actually a new and better normal. So we can hope for that, but as important as hope is as a tool for thriving in the present, hope alone is no more a guarantee than a wish upon a star.

My point is that a new better normal won't happen on its own. A new normal is inevitable, it always is, especially on the other side of crisis, but a new better normal rarely emerges accidentally. If we want it to happen, we're going to have to work for it, even fight for it.

This pandemic caught everyone off guard. The only ones feeling smug right now are those prophets of doom who tried to warn us. Most of us are looking around and wondering how to plan anything at all. I'm thinking right now, for instance, of this class of high school graduates who have been eagerly anticipating the approach of their new independent lives and who are now faced, suddenly, with the prospect of taking their entire college experience online, or "gap years" with severely limited travel or job options. They aren't alone. Right now, few of us can really plan beyond the horizon of today, but that doesn't mean that no one is planning. Already those who seek to benefit from a specific kind of new normal are scheming and lobbying and promoting their visions for a new more profitable normal, one of their own creation. And we know from experience that profit is an unreliable incentive for creating a new better normal for most of us.

No, if we are to have a new better normal for our children and ourselves, we must start working and fighting to create it right now. This is one of the primary motivations behind The Play First Summit (July 20-24) which I am co-hosting with my partners at Fairy Dust Teaching. We have pulled together 20 early childhood thought-leaders from around the world, not to tell us what to do, but in the hopes of starting a global conversation about the new better normal we want for children and their families. Many have taken a look at our all-star line-up and asked, "But what are they going to talk about?" Frankly, we don't know and I imagine that most of them don't know either. My partner Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust is in the midst of interviewing them right now, and as I've been viewing the raw footage I'm struck by how these experts, people I admire and respect, are just beginning to articulate their own experiences, their concerns, their hopes, and their insights. And we're kind of all over the place in some ways, although every single one of us is focused like a laser on a new better normal for children. Our hope and plan is that this summit represents a beginning, a moment when we stop awaiting a new normal and start creating a new better normal. To do that we need you. Already our community Facebook group is bubbling with energy and passion. 

The world changes, but the real needs of children do not. One thing we all agree upon is that a new better normal means one in which no child is robbed of their childhood. How we fulfill that promise is up to all of us. Everyone talks about the "new normal." I'm only interested in a new better normal and that will take all of us talking and working together. Please join us.


I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. We're working to find our distributor for Australia and New Zealand. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below. 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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